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July, 2016:

China’s ‘natural’ disasters are man-made in many cases

With the onset of summer, China has been engulfed by natural disasters, particularly along the Yangtze River basin, where exceptionally heavy rainfall since the beginning of July has led to massive floods and mudslides in several major cities.

Massive floods in central China, in cities like Wuhan, are to be blamed not only on persistent and torrential rain, but also on the obsolete and poorly maintained underground drainage systems. Hence, we can say that the ferocious floods are partly natural, and partly man-made disaster.

China’s rapid economic growth over the past 40 years has come at a huge environmental cost. Industrialization, massive deforestation, rapid urbanization, reckless land clearance and over-harvesting have taken an irreversible toll on the natural environment, resulting in large-scale pollution, widespread soil erosion and desertification across the country.

The crisis has been compounded by the lack of public oversight and administrative transparency, as well as rampant corruption at basically every level of government. All these factors put together have exacerbated the environmental destruction across the mainland.

According to the official figures of the Chinese authorities, soil erosion is the second most critical environmental problem facing China apart from industrial pollution.

Currently soil erosion of different proportions has already affected an area of 3.6 million square kilometers, accounting for 37 percent of China’s total land area. In the meantime, the scale of desertification has also hit crisis level, affecting a total area of 2.6 million square kilometers.

It is estimated that as a result of continued soil erosion and desertification, China is losing an average of one million hectares of farmland every year, and the speed with which it is losing is accelerating.

In the meantime, China’s environmental crisis can not only be found on the ground, but in the atmosphere too.

Unregulated and unchecked carbon emissions have led to persistent smog in almost every major city across China. Highly polluted air has led to an increase in acid rain. It is estimated that as many as 190 cities across the mainland have been suffering from heavy acid rain in recent years, contaminating reservoirs, rivers, lakes and other fresh water sources.

To make things worse, while some parts of the country are plagued by relentless floods, other parts are facing persistent drought. When it comes to the scarcest and most hotly sought after resource in China, many people might immediately think of oil, but actually it is fresh water that is in need most.

As of now, China’s average fresh water resource per capita stands at 25 percent of the global average.

According to British climate expert and historian Hubert Lamb, government policies and political ideology of rulers often have profound and far-reaching implications for the natural environment. Unfortunately, contemporary China is simply a living proof of Lamb’s theory, showing how the ideology of a totalitarian regime can have devastating effects on the environment.

China’s massive environmental destruction dates back to as early as the 1950s, when Mao Zedong ordered the removal of the “4 perils”, during which hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants eagerly took part in a nationwide campaign to kill sparrows on a massive scale because, according to Mao, they endangered crops.

Ironically, after all the sparrows in the wild had gone, the country witnessed a sudden surge in the number of pests such as locusts and aphids that were truly endangering crops.

Then during the period of the Great Leap Forward, Mao called on the nation to launch a steel production drive. That led to countless trees being cut down to produce firewood for makeshift and primitive steel mills across the country. During the process of steelmaking millions of tons of untreated toxic waste were discharged into rivers and lakes across China.

Unfortunately, even though Mao’s era is long gone, acts of state-sponsored environmental destruction are still underway in full swing across China.

As regional party leaders are obsessed with GDP growth and dazzling infrastructural projects without giving any consideration to the long-term implications for the environment, the situation looks bleak.

Hong Kong air pollution still far exceeds WHO levels and worsening, concern group finds

Traffic congestion, spurred by growing number of private cars, is blamed for poor air quality

Concentrations of nitrogen oxides in the air in Hong Kong have consistently surpassed maximum safe levels set by the World Health Organisation [1] in the last five years, with average roadside emissions in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok nearly 2.5 times higher, according to a mid-year review by a concern group.

The Clean Air Network [2] believes the source of such persistent roadside NOx pollution is traffic congestion spurred by uncontrolled growth in the number of private cars – at least 4.6 per cent per year – in the last decade.

For air measured at ambient monitoring stations, NOx levels were highest in Sham Shui Po, Kwai Chung and Tsuen Wan, all of which recorded annual average concentrations of more than 60 micrograms per cubic metre, far in excess of the WHO’s recommended level of 40.

Patrick Fung Kin-wai, the group’s chief executive, said chronically high levels of pollution were posing a significant threat to public health. He urged the government to address the threat when it formulated its planning and transportation policies.

“Roadside air quality has never been at a healthy level,” Fung said. “The public health impacts such as doctors visits and premature deaths need to be looked at.”

The group cited data from the Hedley Environmental Index [3], which estimates there were 821 pollution-related premature deaths in the first half of the year.

The same three stations also recorded average sulphur dioxide concentrations far higher than the citywide five-year average of 10mg, largely from shipping emissions stemming from the cargo terminal in Kwai Chung, but also because of power plants.

The five-year average concentration for particulate pollution smaller than 10 microns, or PM10, was highest in Tuen Mun, Central and Western, and Kwun Tong, all of which exceeded the citywide average of 38mg. The former two also beat the city’s 25mg five-year average for PM2.5, and were joined by Kwai Chung.

“Most pollution is concentrated in the western part of Hong Kong such as Kowloon West and New Territories West,” Fung said.

He recommended policies that encourage behavioural changes such as electronic road pricing and low emissions streets, as well as tighter fuel requirements for ocean vessels.

The Environmental Protection Department said there had been a clear downward trend in emissions over the last five years, which showed emissions reduction measures were paying off.

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Hong Kong government departments ‘fail to co-ordinate and are too slow when tackling problems’

Ombudsman’s annual report highlights problems in public administration and identifies the worst offenders

The Ombudsman has taken Hong Kong government departments to task for “inadequate co-ordination” that has led to persistent problems in public administration, while criticising their “slow pace” in follow-up action to resolve problems.

It found that when faced with problems officials were too quick to pass the buck to other departments or blame staff shortages for not taking action.

In releasing its annual report on Tuesday, the Ombudsman also revealed that 485 complaints were made against the Housing Department in the past year , followed by 420 complaints against the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and 261 for the Lands Department.

In total, the Ombudsman received 5,244 complaints in the past year, down slightly from 5,339 in the previous year. The Ombudsman has completed looking into 5,244 complaints, some of them brought forward from the previous year.

A total of 226 cases were more complex and thus required “full investigation”. Among them, 12.8 per cent were substantiated, 13.3 per cent partially substantiated, 62.8 per cent unsubstantiated, 9.8 per cent unsubstantiated but with inadequacies found, and 1.3 per cent inconclusive.

“In the course of our investigation, we have noticed that where solving a problem requires the input of more than one department, inadequate coordination is found among departments,” Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said.

“The problem is often left unattended and becomes nobody’s problem as every department would say they do not have sufficient power to handle it. And where more than one department can actually solve the problem without help from others, the responsibility for solving the problem is seen as belonging to others who are in a better position to tackle it.”

It was the second consecutive year that the Housing Department topped the list. But Lau said it was “not a surprise” that some departments received more complaints because some had more contact with the public.

Deputy Ombudsman So Kam-shing said common complaints to the Housing Department included poor estate management and a failure to tackle noise pollution.

Of the 20 full investigations into the Housing Department, two were substantiated, three partially substantiated, four unsubstantiated but with adequacies found, and 10 unsubstantiated.

The Housing Department replied that it had established procedures to handle cases being investigated by the Ombudsman.

“Each complaint is thoroughly investigated by the department before a reply is given to the complainant or the Ombudsman,” a spokesman said.

“Recommendations and suggestions for redressing grievances and/or improving administration quality made by the Ombudsman are critically considered in an open and positive manner.”

The department would continue to strive to improve in face of rising public expectations and take note of the Ombudsman’s views on its works, the spokesman said.
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Air pollution—crossing borders

A silent killer responsible for more deaths than the number from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and road injuries combined. A killer indifferent to political agendas and that cannot be contained by borders. Air pollution is associated with around 6·5 million deaths each year globally. While premature deaths from household air pollution are projected to decline from 3·5 million today to 3 million by 2040, premature deaths from outdoor pollution are set to rise from 3 million to 4·5 million in the same period. Transformative action is needed to mitigate this death toll.

There is a dearth of information available on the health effects and economic impact of environmental pollution. Proven solutions are available, but implementation remains a challenge that requires coordinated efforts across sectors and nations. A report by the World Wildlife Fund’s European Policy Office, Climate Action Network Europe, the Health and Environment Alliance, and Sandbag has, for the first time, quantified the cross-border health effects of air pollution from coal use in electricity generation in the European Union (EU), estimating total associated economic costs of up to €62·3 billion. The report aims to promote debate on the rapid phase-out of coal-burning power generation and calls for action at the national and EU level. Toxic particles created by burning coal can be carried beyond the borders of the countries where the power plants are situated. In France, where coal burning is low, 1200 premature deaths a year are caused by air pollution from the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Spain, and the UK. The cross border nature of coal pollution highlights the need for governments to work together to urgently phase out coal burning.

The need for cooperation is reiterated in a special report on Energy and Air Pollution from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which campaigns for global action to overcome the negative environmental effects of energy use. The report cites energy production as the most important source of air pollution coming from human activity and presents strategies to tackle energy poverty in developing countries, reduce pollutant emissions through post-combustion control technologies, and promote clean forms of energy.

The Clean Air Scenario presented by IEA uses benchmarks for air quality goals, such as WHO guideline levels, to set long-term targets. Strategies outlined for the energy sector are adapted to different national and regional settings. In developing countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a notable health impact arises from smoky environments caused by use of wood and other solid fuels for cooking; whereas power plants, industrial facilities, and vehicle emissions are the main causes of outdoor pollution in many high-income countries. Cities in particular are susceptible to becoming pollution hotspots due to concentrated populations, energy use, and traffic.

Although the report takes important steps in tailoring policies to local and national conditions, the proposals are not ambitious enough. For example, the report sets out a scenario in which the number of people being exposed to fine particulate matter levels above the WHO guideline in the EU will be less than 10% by 2040. Yet in the USA, average air pollution limits are already below national limits, having declined by 70% since 1970 despite growth in population levels and energy consumption. Setting half-hearted goals as far ahead as 2040 will only widen the gap between the USA and the rest of the world. The report recognises the need for clearly defined responsibilities, reliable data, and a focus on compliance and policy improvement to keep strategies on course. However, long-term goals can be easy to forget or conveniently ignore, particularly if the issue is allowed to slip down the political agenda. Now is not a time to become complacent, but to match the strides being made by the USA in improving air quality.

The Lancet, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with coordination from the UN Environment Programme and the World Bank, have united to produce a Commission on Pollution, Health, and Development. The aim of the Commission is to inform key decision makers globally of pollution’s severe and under-reported contribution to the global burden of disease and to present available pollution control strategies and solutions, dispelling the myth of pollution’s inevitability and combating apathy. In a turbulent political climate, environmental pollution must not be allowed to fall by the wayside. Policies should take centre stage and nations must come together in a spirit of mutual cooperation to tackle air pollution.

Hong Kong pollution hits highest rating on hottest day of the year

Hundreds of flights cancelled or disrupted as super typhoon Nepartak slams Taiwan

Pollution levels across Hong Kong hit the government’s highest rating on the hottest day of the year on Friday, while Taiwan and eastern China continued to feel the force of severe typhoon Nepartak.

Murk and haze obscured the view across Victoria Harbour as air quality indicators at pollution monitoring stations clocked the highest “serious” category at all sites except the remote island of Tap Mun near Sai Kung which registered as “very high”.

“The intense sunshine enhances photochemical smog activities and the formation of ozone, resulting in high pollution in the region,” the Environmental Protection Department said.

Children, old people and those with heart or respiratory illnesses were advised to avoid or minimise exercise and outdoor activity.

As the chance of a tropical cyclone warning diminished, the Observatory recorded readings of 37 degrees Celsius throughout the afternoon in Ta Kwu Ling in the New Territories. Temperatures climbed to 36 degrees in Causeway Bay and Happy Valley.

Hundreds of flights steered clear of the path of super typhoon Nepartak as the eye of the storm made landfall on Friday morning, battering the southern tip of Taiwan.

The typhoon, now downgraded to “severe” after earlier reaching “super” status with wind speeds of 205km/h as it hit land, rolled onwards up the east China coast towards Fujian province.

Hong Kong’s weather authority said: “On this forecast track, the chance of strong winds in Hong Kong brought by Nepartak will be relatively low. The Hong Kong Observatory will closely monitor the movement of Nepartak and see if it will take on a more westerly track.”

On the second day of air travel disruption, about 400 flights were cancelled to and from Taiwan. Over 60 flights between the island and Hong Kong were also axed on Friday.

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the island’s largest airport, looked to be spared a direct hit. The eye of the storm left Taiwan around 2pm.

But 250 flights departing and arriving at the Taipei hub were still cancelled, with dozens more delayed.

Air travel disruption between Hong Kong and Taiwan was expected to last throughout the day as Nepartak slowly powered across the island.

The air travel knock-on effect was expected to be felt on the mainland, where Nepartak was set to make landfall in the next 24 hours, potentially making a direct hit on Xiamen, in Fujian province. Xiamen airport and nearby Fuzhou and Xiamen already had flight cancellations.

Hong Kong carriers Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Hong Kong Airlines between them scrubbed two dozen flights to Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung. Cathay Pacific and Dragonair also cancelled stopover flights from Taipei to Japan.

Mainland carriers grounded dozens of flights bound for Taiwan too.

Taiwan’s Eva Air sought to minimise disruption by moving some of its international flights from the island to depart ahead of schedule on Thursday. The airline delayed the arrival of flights bound for Taipei from Europe and the US, scheduling them to arrive after 9am Friday.

Hong Kong authorities outlined ‘enhancement’ measures to compensate for marine habitat destruction, court hears in legal battle over third runway

Lantau residents and conservationists seeking a judicial review of decision to approve airport project question whether these measures are legally binding

The city’s environmental authorities have outlined “enhancement” measures aimed at compensating for marine habitat destruction in assessing the impact of a proposed third runway at Hong Kong’s airport, the High Court heard on Thursday.

These measures would be a “bonus” on top of original impact mitigation plans, barrister Ben Yu SC said.

On the third day of a four-day legal battle over an environmental impact assessment for the runway project by the Environmental Protection Department, Yu, who was representing the department, said the outlined enhancement measures were required conditions for approving the controversial construction plans, which are expected to cost HK$141.5 billion.

The lawyer cited the promotion of environmental education and eco-tourism and the development of a sustainable fisheries industry as examples of marine habitat enhancements laid out in the department’s assessment report.

These would create additional benefits, given that advanced drilling and construction methods would also be used to minimise and mitigate environmental damage, Yu said.

But Lantau resident Ho Loy and conservationist Yu Hin-pik, who are seeking a judicial review of the department’s decision to approve the new runway, questioned whether the enhancement measures were legally binding.

They also queried the authorities’ willingness to try to restore the marine habitat near the building site to a state as close as possible to that present before construction.

They pointed to a lack of immediate mitigation measures to compensate for the irreversible loss of more than 650 hectares of marine habitat, mainly for the Chinese white dolphin, as the authorities are only offering an enlarged marine park when the runway project is complete in 2023.

On issues such as the assessment of noise produced by the new airstrip, Yu noted the environmental department had adopted time-proven methodologies in collecting data and projecting the possible noise footprint of aircraft.

The procedure complied with statutory requirements, the lawyer argued.

The hearing will end on Friday before High Court judge Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming.

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Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water

Following is a question by Dr Hon Helena Wong and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (July 6):


The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water released at the end of May this year has pointed out that “what we have seen is a collective failure on the part of all stakeholders to guard against the use of non-compliant solder in the plumbing system … every party transferred the duty of supervision to the other(s), resulting in a classic case of buck-passing. Trust was misplaced and in the end it was the residents who suffered the most”. Subsequently at a press conference, the Secretary for Development, Secretary for Transport and Housing as well as Director of Water Supplies apologised to the affected residents for the incidents of excessive lead content in drinking water (the lead-tainted water incidents), but the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) did not. CS remarked that “even though the inquiry of the Commission has revealed that there has been inadequate alertness among government departments and a flawed regulatory system, it does not necessarily mean that there is any individual public officer who has not abided by the law or has neglected his or her duties and should thus be held personally responsible”. On the other hand, the aforesaid report recommended that “in order to put the minds of all public rental housing (PRH) residents at ease, the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again using an appropriate sampling protocol that would include the testing of stagnant water as well”. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that when the accountability system for principal officials was launched in 2002, the authorities indicated that “principal officials under the accountability system … will be accountable to the Chief Executive for the success or failure of matters falling within their respective portfolios. They will accept total responsibility and in an extreme case, they may have to step down for serious failures relating to their respective portfolios. These include serious failures in policy outcome and serious mishaps in the implementation of the relevant policies”, if the authorities have assessed whether, in the lead-tainted water incidents, there is any serious failure in policy outcome and any serious mishap in the implementation of the relevant policies on the part of the principal officials concerned, and whether such officials should be held responsible and step down; if the authorities have assessed, of the outcome; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, of the justifications, and whether they have reviewed if the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a “buck-passing system for high ranking officials”;

(2) whether it will request CS to apologise to the public for the lead-tainted water incidents; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and

(3) whether the authorities will immediately conduct sample tests on the lead content of the “initial draw-off” taken from all PRH estates, and whether they will make public all the data obtained from the water tests and blood tests conducted in relation to the lead-tainted water incidents; if they will not, of the reasons for that?


Acting President,

Following the briefing by myself, relevant Directors of Bureaux and civil service colleagues for the Legislative Council (LegCo) House Committee on September 1 and October 8 last year on the situation of the lead in drinking water incident at public rental housing (PRH) estates, we will attend the special meeting of the House Committee again on July 11 to brief Members on how the Government will follow up on the recommendations of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Report). Also, we have already submitted a detailed information paper and, therefore, I will reply concisely to the question raised by Dr Hon Helena Wong today.

For the three parts of the question, my reply is as follows:

(1) As early as October 16, 2015 at the LegCo motion debate on excess lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I have already taken the initiative to acknowledge that the incident has clearly reflected the inadequacies of the monitoring system of the Housing Department (HD) and the Water Supplies Department (WSD). At the press conference to make public the Report on May 31 this year, we have accepted the criticisms of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Commission), i.e. the checking system of the two departments, for ensuring that the drinking water in PRH estates does not contain excess lead, has failed to function in reality. The Director of Housing and the Director of Water Supplies have already apologised to the public and the affected residents for the systemic failure and imperfect implementation. The policy areas of housing and water supply are under the purview of the Secretary for Transport and Housing (STH) and the Secretary for Development (SDEV) respectively. As politically appointed principal officials, STH Professor Anthony Cheung and SDEV Paul Chan are responsible for supervising their executive departments to ensure the effective implementation of the policies and the provision of sound service to the public. The two Secretaries of Bureaux did not evade their political responsibility, and apologised for the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates. Under the supervision of the Directors of Bureaux, the two departments have endeavoured to investigate comprehensively the drinking water situation, implement measures for affected residents and follow up on the various recommendations of the Commission. Hence, I do not agree with the suggestion that “the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a buck-passing system for high ranking officials”.

(2) Under the political appointment system, the Chief Secretary for Administration plays an important role in terms of policy coordination. For the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I convened the first high-level inter-departmental meeting in the morning of July 11 last year (i.e. the next day after HD confirmed and made public the first sample with excess lead) to co-ordinate the follow-up actions of relevant bureaux and departments. So far 20 meetings have been held and a number of measures have been taken promptly. Following the release of the Commission’s Report, I will continue to provide steer for the work of relevant bureaux and departments to ensure that the formulation and implementation of policies will be coordinated properly.

(3) As regards the Commission’s recommendation that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again, WSD must first deal with the water sampling protocols. As the experts of the Commission also agreed, there was no universally accepted practice at the moment. The action levels for lead concentration in water tested also vary from place to place. Moreover, water testing is just a means to achieve our objective of ensuring the quality and safety of drinking water. As such, the issue and the follow-up work must be considered in a holistic manner in order to allay public concerns and minimise unnecessary nuisance caused to them.

The Commission also supported our proposal to set up an international expert panel on water safety to provide expert advice to Hong Kong on matters related to water quality standards, regulatory and monitoring regime for water quality, water sampling protocols, etc. The international expert panel as set up by the Development Bureau will convene the first video conferencing meeting today, with a view to putting forward a proposal as soon as possible which is suitable for the actual situation in Hong Kong, and covers the water sampling protocols, appropriate lead content level, and the action levels for lead concentration in water tested. Based on the views of the international expert panel, WSD will follow up as appropriate, including the recommendation of the Commission that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again.

As regards making public the results for water tests and blood tests, the Housing Authority (HA) and WSD conducted water sampling tests for all PRH estates concerned between July and November 2015. HA has disseminated to the public the test results for drinking water samples taken from the PRH estates through various channels, including press conferences, press releases and papers issued to LegCo and HA. The Government has also published the overall test results of the blood lead levels of residents in the affected PRH estates as well as the students/staff of the affected schools. The Department of Health and the Hospital Authority have also provided blood test reports and blood lead level data to individuals receiving these tests. As blood lead levels of individuals are personal data, it would not be appropriate to disclose them to the public.

Thank you, Acting President.

Lines drawn as legal battle over third Hong Kong runway begins

Campaigners fearful of environmental damage aim to stop work from starting next month as marine expert warns it ‘could be the last stand’

A four-day judicial battle between activists and airport officials over the contentious third runway project begins today, with the former hoping that a High Court decision will stop initial works from commencing next month.

The judicial review lodged by Lantau resident Ho Loy and supported by the Dolphin Conservation Society and People’s Aviation Watch, challenges the Environmental Protection Department’s issuing of an environmental permit to the Airport Authority. They were granted leave last February.

Marine biologist Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, who chairs the society and has lobbied hard against the plan since its inception, said he was optimistic that there will be a positive result.

“This could be the last stand,” said Hung. “We feel our reasoning is strong and exposes very obvious breaches of procedural justice.”

The challengers say there are two unresolved areas of the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) – airspace and habitat loss – both of which contain major, unaddressed issues.

The team is pointing to a lack of immediate mitigation measures to compensate more than 650 hectares of irreversible habitat loss, mainly to the Chinese white dolphin, offering instead an enlarged marine park when the project is complete in 2023.

The report was also said to have “written off” cumulative impacts from major infrastructure projects nearby such as future reclamation works off Lung Kwu Tan and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge’s artificial island.

Another point in their crosshairs was the authority’s floating of additional “enhancement” measures, unrelated to the EIA and not legally binding, to spruce up the project and put “icing on the cake”, said Hung.

He believed this was a move to appease members of the Advisory Council on the Environment, which must endorse the report before it can be passed on to the director of environmental protection for the stamp.

The challenge will also raise issues with the assessment of noise and air quality impacts, which was based on assumptions that airspace issues with the mainland would be resolved.

“The EPD never got a confirmation on this from the Civil Aviation Department,” said a spokeswoman for the People’s Aviation Watch concern group. “If the assumptions are wrong in the first place, its likely that the outcome will be, too.”

Hung claims a victory for his group may render the authority’s environmental permit null and delay the project. The legal team, led by Senior Counsel Nigel Kat, will cite the KCRC Corp’s HK$7 billion bid to build a rail rink through the Long Valley wetland, which was rejected by the EPD in 2000 on grounds that the operator would not be effective in compensating habitat loss. A subsequent appeal was also turned down.

But a defeat would mean initial reclamation works for the HK$141.5 billion runway and the collection of fees from travellers to pay for it will begin as planned on August 1, an outcome they believe would set a precedent for exploiting the EIA system.

“In the future, anyone will just submit a lousy EIA, ignore everyone’s comments, and then propose enhancement measures to get the approval,” Hung said.

A spokesman for the authority declined to comment as the case had entered judicial proceedings.
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Changes to China’s environmental review law leave activists worried

Under revisions quietly made by the legislature this weekend, projects can seek approval from various departments even if the assessment process isn’t finished

For green activists, environmental impact reviews – despite their often poor implementation – are a critical weapon in the fight against polluting industrial projects.

But under a revision to the assessment law, quietly passed by the National People’s Congress over the weekend, the review is no longer a “precondition” for a project to begin the approval process with other departments.

The change is ostensibly aimed at cutting red tape and ¬removing hurdles to private investment. But activists fear it could usher in a new permissive era, where approval by one department gives a project enough momentum to steamroll a legitimate examination into its effects on the environment.

The review process was enshrined into law in 2003 and effectively gave environmental authorities veto power over a project. and the public a channel to formally register their concerns over a project.

Senior environmental officials – including former vice-minister Pan Yue – used the mechanism to take on powerful state-owned companies and halt construction of dams and petrochemical projects.

Beijing-based lawyer Xia Jun said environmental authorities might now come under greater pressure to green light a controversial project if other departments had approved it.

The question is: has the public been given more power to challenge potential polluters instead?

Beijing-based lawyer Xia Jun

For instance, if the developer of an incinerator project had won permission to use land for a project and other approvals were ready, environmental authorities might not be willing to reject it.

“It’s not a problem to cut red tape and weaken government power. The question is: has the public been given more power to challenge potential polluters instead? It’s a pity I don’t see such a change in the revision,” Xia said. Zhou Rong, an environmental consultant in Beijing, said the government was right to cut red tape holding up projects, given the drive to boost private investment amid slower economic growth.

“The amendment weakens the vetoing power of the environmental review mechanism, and no feasible alternative has been offered,” she said.

Ge Feng, a legal consultant with Friends of Nature, said the impact of the change would depend on how ministries – especially environmental officials – carried out their duties.

The revision to the law was carried out in an unusual way. Previously, the public was asked to offer their opinion on environmental legislation before it was passed into law.

But they were not asked to participate in the latest revision, which came amid a wave of protests against incinerators in several mainland cities.

Asked whether a weaker review mechanism meant the public’s voice in decision-making was being undermined, Mei Nianshu, a green activist based in Yunnan province, said: “I’m afraid so.”
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Wong Kam Shing – GOLD BAUHINIA STAR, awarded for ……what ?

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